Almedalen 2017: Youth, peace and the future of the UN

The Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation returned to Almedalen for a fruitful week of political discussion and debate.


On the stage of Sverige i Världen at Almedalen 2017, the Foundation hosted three seminars covering youth, peace and the future of the UN. Our panellists from government and civil society discussed and debated questions including how Sweden contributes to improving the UN’s work towards peace; how support for the UN and global normative frameworks can be strengthened; what is needed to ensure that young people are engaged as active partners and leaders, and why is their inclusion important.


Sweden and the UN’s peacebuilding work

Despite the United Nations’ mandate to guarantee global peace and security, the international community continues to face stalemate in several conflicts worldwide. In light of this, panellists explored Sweden’s role in improving the UN’s work towards peace. Panellists representing Swedish government and civil society included Chris Coulter, Folke Bernadotte Academy; Efraim Gomez, Head of Department, UN Policy Department; Aleksander Gabelic, President, UN Association-Sweden; and Annika Schabbauer, Chief of Cabinet, Operation 1325.

Chris Coulter (Folke Bernadotte Academy)

In presenting Sweden’s top priority within the UN and the Security Council, namely creating political consensus around the need for conflict prevention and peacebuilding, Efraim Gomez highlighted that prevention “is right, reduces human suffering and is economically smart”.

Panellists noted that prevention means different things in different contexts, and the UN should therefore develop interventions based on the needs and perspectives of local actors; Sweden currently drives several of such reform processes in the UN system. However, panellists underscored that it can do more to support prevention and peacebuilding on the ground, including through providing more peacekeepers to UN missions, investing more in prevention efforts, and championing increased engagement by UN agencies in rural areas.

Another important role for Sweden in the UN and the Security Council is to promote cooperation between varioAnnika Schabbauer (Operation 1325); Efraim Gomez (UN Policy Department); Chris Coulter (Folke Bernadotte Academy); Aleksander Gabelic (UN Association-Sweden); Henrik Hammargren (Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation)us UN agencies, building on and drawing lessons from successful collaboration efforts such as the UNDP-DPA joint programme. Cooperation with international and regional inter-governmental organisations and civil society is also critical.

Key to prevention and peacebuilding is inclusion, and Sweden plays an important role within international fora in advocating for the engagement of civil society and marginalised groups, including women, and youth. Yet more is needed to ensure the active participation of these groups in decision-making and conflict resolution processes. In pushing for the UN to prioritise inclusive peace efforts, Swedish country missions should take an active role in meeting with civil society and UN agencies in country, and lifting their perspectives at the Security Council.


The UN under threat? Political trends, global values and the need for strong leadership

The United Nations’ new Secretary-General, António Guterres, faces a daunting task in an ever more complex world. Panellists – Annika Söder, State Secretary, Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Jan Eliasson, former UN Deputy Secretary-General; Anders Pedersen, UN Resident Coordinator in Jordan; and David Cairns, UK ambassador to Sweden – debated the UN’s role in dealing with some of the most pressing challenges to global peace and security .

In a time when global challenges must be dealt with by a more effective international community, the multilateral system is instead increasingly under pressure. The UN and its core values are questioned while anti-solidarity agendas continue to gain ground. These trends have real consequences and affect the political climate at the UN, as well as its financing; the Trump administration has already threatened to half its contribution to the UN. In light of this, panellists discussed how the support for the UN and global normative frameworks can be strengthened, as well as what reforms are required within the organisation to meet the changing geopolitical landscape.

Jan Eliasson (former UN Deputy Secretary-General)

The panellists discussed what Secretary-General António Guterres has prioritised during his first six months in office, and what we can expect in the years to come. They shared a concern over the escalating conflicts in several parts of the world and the failure of the Security Council to agree on solutions. Focus should be on prevention, and stronger measures should be taken at an early stage, instead of waiting “for the house to be on fire”.

The UN can be described as a mirror of two things: the world as it is and the world as it should be – and the gap between these two should be reduced. The world is now facing a situation where multilateralism is under threat, but as the borderlines between national and international are disappearing, it is apparent that international problems need international solutions. Panellists agreed that more focus should be on working together across silos and making sure the reform agendas are implemented coherently – “there is no peace without development and no development without peace and none of the above without human rights”, as Jan Eliasson, former UN Deputy Secretary-General, put it.


We are young: the role of youth in promoting peace

In this seminar three young panellists highlighted various aspects of involving youth in the work for peace, with the recent UN Security Council Resolution 2250 as a starting point.

Simón Ebers (Pluralism and Dialogue Institute at Fryshuset)While not a country in armed conflict, violence is very present in certain areas in Sweden with socio-economic exclusion and strong dissatisfaction with society among youth. At the Pluralism and Dialogue Institute at Fryshuset, Simón Ebers works to empower young people in Sweden to leave ring-wing extremist groups and gangs and become constructively engaged in their communities. “Our vision at Fryshuset underscores that the world’s youth is part of the solution, not the problem.”

Swedish Youth Representative to the UN General Assembly Hanna Bergman emphasised that sustainable peace can only be achieved once youths are recognised as important partners for peace and as facilitators for change. For Hanna, it was revolutionary to find a UN resolution that echoes the goals of the Swedish youth movement. However, “we have to make sure that the decisions youth are allowed to take part in are real decisions that produce change,” said Bergman. It is not enough for youth to be merely represented and heard – they need to be included as active decision-makers.

Youth activist Annie Utrera stressed that youth in Colombia played a key role in the success of the peace accords in Colombia depends on the youth, having demanded a peaceful resolution to the conflict for decades. The flag of peace was raised by youth in the 70s, and the youth of today are picking up that flag. This “generation of peace” is now building concepts for reconciliation, in a country where hatred has surpassed all limits.Annie Utrera (youth activist, Colombia)

To strengthen youth engagement, panellists agreed on the need for more resources, and the importance of reaching out to all youth, and not only those who are already active. Further initiatives and creative solutions must be developed to empower youth, such as the new Youth4Peace online e-consultations.

Finishing off with the simple yet important question “why youth and why now?”, panellists concluded that there will not be an end to conflict and violence if youth are not engaged. Exclusion is part of the reason for violence, and therefore inclusion is part of the answer to peace.